Monday, 21 June 2021
Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I speak today on the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 1) Bill 2021. I note that we will be supporting this legislation but also note the second reading amendment moved by the member for Cooper. Obviously, anyone who has had a relative in residential aged care in the last 10 years or so knows that the aged-care system has problems, and in fact arguably was failing long before the royal commission handed down its report. I don't need to remind you, Deputy Speaker, that the title of the interim report was damning. It was a simple title: Neglect.
We know that the Morrison government are responsible for aged care and we know that they're about to enter their ninth year of government. This broken system is, sadly, one of the Prime Minister's great legacies. As stated by some of the earlier speakers, some of the rot started when he was Treasurer Morrison. We now have an aged-care system that has failed older Australians, those people entrusted to its care, who are some of our most vulnerable Australians. It is a disgrace. I can't understand why that title, Neglect, should not have been motivation for great change instead of incremental distractions. We know the Prime Minister is personally responsible for the devastation in the aged-care system, because, when he was Minister for Social Services and then Treasurer, he was responsible for funding cuts. He is therefore responsible for the neglect identified by the royal commission.
The entire nation was shocked by the neglect uncovered by those royal commission hearings. It was horrific neglect that included leaving wounds in a state that no civilised nation should accept. There were people with maggots in their wounds. Two-thirds of residents were malnourished or at risk of being malnourished. For eight years, the coalition government have failed to listen to our vulnerable Australians in the aged-care sector. They have failed to listen to families who have raised concerns. They have failed to listen, most importantly, to the workers in aged care.
Rather than looking at some of the fine words that have come from those opposite, let's look at what they have actually done, because it amounts to contempt for the workers in the aged-care system. The coalition have failed to listen to 22 expert reports. Now is not the time for kicking the can further down the road. Sadly, now that the royal commission into aged care has handed down its final report, the Morrison government's response shows that it has not listened to the royal commissioners. The facts were horrific, but the coalition's response, at best, aspires to woeful. They have no plan for reform that will improve aged care in the long term, when we have a tsunami of people who will be experiencing dementia and lots of other health issues. They have fobbed off, delayed or outright rejected some of the key recommendations from the commissioners. The aged-care sector will never improve without reform to the workforce. That is a fundamental part of what a good government's response should be.
Let's see what the Morrison government haven't done. They have not committed to improving wages for overstretched, undervalued aged-care workers. Aged-care workers are currently being paid less than someone working at McDonald's. Call me old-fashioned, but I still think that giving people money is a sign that they are valued. It's not complicated. Aged-care workers have an incredibly complex job. It's difficult. I've been to some of the aged-care facilities in my own electorate. I'm currently trying to get my 85-year-old father into the aged-care system. I know it's complicated. I know, just from trying to coordinate things with my siblings, that it's incredibly emotional. It's draining on staff to deal with the people in front of them. They're not statistics and they're not case loads; they are people with real-life stories and real-life families. But, for all of that, aged-care workers are still some of the worst-paid workers in the land.
We know it's an enormous responsibility to care for residents in aged care. One registered nurse in an aged-care facility reportedly said: 'People don't go to residential aged care for no reason. They go there because they can't look after themselves. They have chronic issues.' In some aged-care homes, registered nurses arrive for shifts to face the responsibility of looking after more than 100 residents. Just think of physically moving amongst 100 humans and having some meaningful interaction with 100 people in a row. That's not fair to the workers or to the aged-care residents relying on this care.
Prime Minister Morrison also ignored the recommendation to increase mandatory care minutes in residential aged care. Staffing levels are central to many of the care quality problems in residential aged care. We know that we're going to need an additional 700,000 workers in aged care by 2050 to cope with our ageing population. There is no way that's achievable when these jobs are disrespected and undervalued by the Morrison government.
Labor does support this bill because it will help prevent the overuse of restraints and restrictive practices in aged care except in the most extreme cases and only as a last resort. I'll mention, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough, your other capacity as a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. We conducted an inquiry into restrictive practices in aged care. We got some great evidence, and I think some good outcomes flowed from that. But the royal commission concluded that 30 per cent of older people in aged care, almost one in three, had experienced some form of substandard care. They specifically heard about the excessive use of physical and chemical restraints in residential aged care. The use of restraints robs older Australians of their dignity and autonomy, often in their final years or final months. Older Australians suffering dementia are often heavily sedated or physically restrained as a simple management tool, rather than as something that's in their best interests. This bill will help prevent the overuse of restraints, but obviously it's nowhere near the whole answer. When carers are overstretched and undervalued, they can't give the care that residents deserve. They just don't have the time.
Older Australians deserve much more than what is contained in this bill. All Australians deserve a Prime Minister who will listen to the experts and not continually ignore their advice. The royal commission made recommendations that, if implemented, would change the lives of older Australians. In some cases they would save their lives. Sadly, older Australians, their families and hardworking carers can't trust Prime Minister Morrison to fix the broken aged-care system that he started the rot in when he was the minister. Eight years of neglect, nudging into nine—that's what older Australians in aged care are experiencing now. It's not going to be fixed by this bill. Older Australians built this country. They and their families deserve much more than the broken system the Morrison government has created. Aged care impacts all of us. We all expect better than neglect.